Amplifier’s stunning double album The Octopus must surely be one of the landmark progressive rock releases of this young century.
Bold unpretentious rocker from Sel Balamir's retooled band
Last year’s excellent retrospective Echo Street no doubt went some way to quelling demands for a follow-up from their fan base, but now with Mystoria the time has come for the band to once again nail their colours to the mast.
With the band losing founding member, bassist Neil Mahony, and gaining ex-Oceansize guitarist Steve Durose, they were always going to approach this record differently. Opening track Magic Carpet roars out of the gate, guitars and effects dropping in and out as the intensity builds to an ecstatic, bombastic peak, many miles away from the brooding, sinister Octopus. In some ways though, Mystoria does have a certain continuity with Echo Street. Like the early-career tracks found on rarities collection Eternity, here The Meaning Of If and Named After Rocky draw heavily on their influences like Soundgarden, Rush and Zeppelin. Elsewhere, Black Rainbow recalls their soaring second album, Insider, with Bride in particular reminiscent of Mongrel’s Anthem.
That echoes of Insider have returned to the Amplifier sonic melting pot is surely no bad thing. The record was defined by grand soundscapes and expansive chords, whereas previous and subsequent albums tended to focus on the band’s signature riff-heavy space rock. Having the two sides of the band represented on a single record adds some variety and possibly exposes newer fans to something they hadn’t expected. In the early 2000s Amplifier were often sharing stages with bands more in a experimental alt-rock vein, so hearing hints of groups such as Septembre or The God Machine is welcome indeed.
The chromatic explorations of OMG could have been lifted straight off Octopus; Open Up is a kinetic, bass-led trip of a track with the biggest chorus on the album. The interplay between the instruments is excellent and the guitar leads shine in particular – supposedly Mystoria was put together with the bare minimum of overdubs, and this one has a strong live feel, all the moving parts interlocking perfectly.
Penultimate song Crystal Mountain builds slowly, teasing out tendrils of reverb-laden melody, before Crystal Anthem cuts loose with an up-tempo sprint that perfectly catches the wave of joyous excitement and makes for a fittingly grandiose finale. They’ve proved that they can do intense and they can do conceptual, so it’s satisfying to see that Amplifier haven’t lost their sense of fun. Because that’s what Mystoria is, a fun record that rocks hard.